Throughout history, many political theorists have emerged, and shared their beliefs with their cultures at the time. Some grew famous and became world renown. Many views that they espoused lived on through the teachings of followers and the arguments of opponents. Niccolo Machiavelli was one of these great thinkers. His political analysis is still quarreled over today, and his philosophy raises many ethical questions, even in our present global society.
In perhaps Machiavelli’s most famous work, The Prince, the underlying theme is the belief that the ends justify the means. In other words, if the outcome of a certain situation is advantageous, then it does not matter how that outcome was achieved. In The Prince, Machiavelli extends this idea to the leadership of a state. He explains to the reader that the Prince must do whatever necessary to establish a stable state. Thus, if need be, the leader may kill, cheat, lie, or brutalize his way into a strong and sturdy position as leader. This idea can be applied to many other situations, and is a theme that is still pertinent to our 2003 American society.
First, many business leaders adopt Machiavellian principles in running their companies, maintaining them, and making big profits. In the book, Management and Machiavelli, the author writes, “Corporations compete just as keenly as states, and are impelled by exactly the same human emotions of greed and fear and pride…” (Jay 14). This quote recognizes the similarities between the mindsets of political and corporate leaders.
Not long ago in 2001, Kenneth Lay, the CEO of the Enron Corp., was investigated for unethical business practices. Arthur Anderson, the company’s accounting firm was also under fire for its fraudulent actions. The exposure of this deceitful corporation sparked a widespread investigation of big business in the United States, leading to the discovery of more companies breaking the same laws. The heads of these firms were interested in making vast amounts of money, and did. However, while raking profits in, at the same time they were blatantly deceiving their employees and investors. These CEOs and their immediate staff were going to make millions of dollars no matter what actions needed to be taken. To them, the ends justified the means.
Recently, certain American political campaigns have been accused of accepting money from these corporations that employ dishonest business ethics. For example, according to the BBC News website, www.news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/business/1779445.stm, George W. Bush accepted campaign money from the Enron Corporation on the eve of the unveiled scandal in 2001. The website reads, “Mr. Lay and Enron poured substantial sums into Mr Bush’s various campaigns in what appeared to be a relentless quest for political influence”(Hale). If the funds aid in an election for Bush, then it matters not that the money was the product of corrupt business practices. Also, the idea that the ends justify the means can be seen in the way that some politicians make empty promises to the citizens simply to score more votes, and win an election. As long as the election’s result is favorable to the candidate, then the means of winning the collective vote was justified.
Moreover, to many athletes in the world today, the ends justify the means. In American sports, and sports around the world, athletes strive to be the absolute best in their games, whatever it may be. Many spend hours on end practicing their craft and trying to perfect their physical prowess. Some of these athletes also turn to steroids for an extra boost of power and energy. For example, recently, steroid use among professional players in Major League Baseball has been given significant attention by American sports fans and league officials. According to www.abcnews.com, “Former Oakland Athletic Jose Canseco recently claimed that 85 percent of ballplayers are on the ‘juice'”(Sealey). Thus, in the MLB, and other professional sports, the amount of athletes that turn to steroids is not inconsequential. Although the risks are severe, these men and women will do whatever is necessary to improve their play. Therefore, they are using this Machiavellian philosophy to boost their athletic careers.
Also, in the world of sports, many coaches employ a Machiavellian style of leadership with their teams. Some coaches feel that to inspire their players to win games, they need to intimidate the team into playing harder. College basketball head coach Bobby Knight did just that before he was fired from his position at Indiana University. Knight was accused of physically and psychologically abusing his players, all in the spirit of winning and motivation. Time Magazine reports on its website:
“Some of Bobby’s ebullitions have been on display in television news clips the last couple of days: Coach Knight hurling a molded plastic chair the length of a basketball court; Coach Knight, displeased, putting a straight-arm Darth Vader chokehold on one of his own players” (Morrow).
Knight exited his job with a winning record, but to be a winner, he was driven to the aforementioned “motivational” tactics. Thus, in order to win games, Bobby Knight would do nearly whatever it took to evoke the most effort out of his players. In the end, he believed that his actions were justified by his record as a coach. It appears that Bobby Knight also adopted Machiavelli’s view that it is better to be feared than loved. Machiavelli writes, “…but because it is difficult to combine them, it is far better to be feared than loved if you cannot be both” (Machiavelli 54). This quote relates to Knight’s use of scare tactics on his players in attempt to win games.
The war in Iraq is a major event taking place on the world’s stage presently. According to The Prince, “A Prince, therefore, must have no other object or thought, nor acquire skill in anything, except war, its organization, and its discipline” (Machiavelli 47). Judging by the outcome of the Iraqi war so far, George Bush has been an adept wartime “Prince”. Moreover, the United States took a Machiavellian stance on the war before the fighting started. Inherently, with any war, casualties will most likely occur on one side or the other. In this case, Iraqi buildings will be razed and landmarks destroyed. However, the United States was willing to carry out the war in order to oust the enemy’s tyrannical leader, Saddam Hussein. In The Political Animal, the author states, “But in The Prince he is speaking about his own time, and expresses the view that force is both a necessary and sufficient condition for government of any kind” (Rauch 7). With that, the US military leaders believe that in this war situation, any action needed to rid the world of Saddam Hussein would be sound, and excused as necessary force.
In the scientific field as well, Machiavellian principles are exhibited. Ethical questions are raised constantly today because of perpetual technology breakthroughs and groundbreaking scientific findings. Some believe that in order to advance as a culture, scientific risks are a necessity. Continuous battles rage between animal rights groups and firms that test products and drugs on living things. These individuals believe that if a new discovery is made to better the masses, then the methods of finding the new cure, or producing the cheaper drug are acceptable.
Finally, as a student, I witness first-hand the prevalence of this Machiavellian theme among my classmates. The amount of cheating that takes place speaks volumes to the apparent popularity of The Prince on campus. In education, many students implement Machiavellian principles into their academic careers. For example, the Internet is saturated with websites that will type essays for students willing to pay for someone else to do the work.
Many opt for this service because it will give them an easy “A”. Some feel that if they receive an “A” on a paper or in a class, how they went about achieving that success is not important. These actions can be compared to a Prince gaining control of a state through the use of crime. Machiavelli writes of a great leader, Agatholcles, who rose up in ranks through courage and criminal action (Machiavelli 27-28). In this passage, Machiavelli condones the leader’s use of crime in order to rise in power. This is similar to the University violation of plagiarism in which some students partake. All that matters is that their grade point average increased, and for them the ends justify the means.
About The Prince, the book The Political Animal reads, “The function of state is to be, to maintain itself in power; to this end, all means are permitted, and they all rest on force” (Rauch 7). This notion that the ends justify the means is one that will be ever-present in philosophy, and will be applied to different situations as time passes. The ideas set forth in “The Prince” are timeless because they can be germane to an endless amount of circumstances. For this reason, Machiavellian philosophy will continue to be an undertone in politics and other aspects of society in America and the rest of the world.